Thank you for writing to me regarding the right to protest.
I have received a large number of emails in light of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I would like to take this opportunity to set out my thoughts on this Bill and the points that constituents have rightly raised about it over the last week. It has been good to hear from so many people, many of whom are contacting their MP for the first time.
Like you, I am extremely concerned about this draconian Bill, which would impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest. It contains several vague terms that could be applied far too widely; for example describing ‘public nuisance’ as causing someone ‘serious annoyance’ or ‘serious inconvenience’.
These measures will have a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, GRT communities, people with mental health issues, homeless people, and may even impact the ability of trade unions to effectively picket and demand better rights for employees.
As many constituents noted, these important points were identified and challenged very well in Parliament through my colleague Bell Ribeiro-Addy’s reasoned amendment to the Bill, and I am pleased that it was Labour MPs – and my frontbench colleague David Lammy – leading those arguments in the House of Commons.
Looked at in the round, I do not think this Bill represents any form of constructive, well thought out and targeted approach to tackling the real problems of crime in our society. Instead, it simply represents a calculated and ruthless attack on one of the fundamental principles of our democracy, the right to protest.
During Monday’s debate, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said:
“The right to protest to those in power is extremely precious. Whether it is our trade unions or another group that wants to make its views known loudly in our streets, we curtail their ability to do so at our peril. The right to protest is one of our proudest democratic traditions, and that this government seek to attack it is to their great shame. Our existing laws on protest strike a careful balance between legitimate rights and the need to keep order. Our laws on protest do not, and never should, seek to shield those in power from public criticism and public protest.”
I wholeheartedly support the right to peaceful protest. It is a fundamental civil liberty. I also believe that it is important that protests are able to take place in the vicinity of Parliament so that legislators are not cocooned from public anger.
I can assure you that the Labour Party does not support this curb on our basic human rights, and we will fight against this draconian Bill at every stage in Parliament.
Thank you for contacting me about this important issue. If you have any further points you would like to raise, please do not hesitate to get back in touch.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury
Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade